The Wellington Phoenix academy is fast becoming the envy of the A-Leagues.
When 16-year-old goalkeeper Henry Gray flew to Australia before Christmas it meant 12 of the 26-strong Phoenix squad had come through the club’s academy.
Gray followed closely in the footsteps of Finn Surman, Jackson Manuel and Oskar van Hattum, who joined the Phoenix in Sydney in late November, and Ben Old, Alex Paulsen, Kurtis Mogg and George Ott, who signed with the first-team ahead of the 2021/22 Isuzu UTE A-League season.
Louis Fenton, James McGarry, Sam Sutton and Ben Waine are the other academy graduates in the current Phoenix squad.
Technical director Paul Temple is filled with an overwhelming sense of pride whenever any of his players progress to the first team.
“It’s awesome to see because you just know how much it means to the kids, you know how much it means to their family and what they’ve put into it,” Temple said.
“It’s awesome when you see that hard work rewarded.
“When they first came in they were babies really. So you see them grow up as footballers, grow up as young men and then you see them in the A-League…and you realise they put so much into this.”
Temple believes the academy’s success is a whole club effort.
“The staff in the academy have been doing a really good job and the players coming through are really good prospects, but they’re never the finished article in the academy.
“You’re always giving players to the first team that have shown a lot of potential and have a bright future…but the step up is the next thing.
“So you need a coach that’s willing to play them, give them opportunities and help coach them when they’re in the A-League because then they get better.”
In that regard Temple says they are lucky to have Ufuk Talay as head coach.
“He’s come in, supported these kids and took them to that next level.
“All we do is produce some potential and it’s really up to the kids and the coaching they get in the first team to turn them into those tried and tested A-League players.
“As a club we’re in a really good space. The chairman and the board really back the academy. The coaching staff in the first team back the academy and the staff in the academy feel that.
“Feel part of the whole club and we’re doing this all for these kids really to get into the first team and then it’s up to them to work out where it goes from there.”
Paul Temple believes the academy has been operating for three or four years at a high level in terms of youth development and Sarpreet Singh was the “game changer”.
“As soon as you have someone that comes through your academy, plays in the first team, does really well in the first team and then gets a move to a club like Bayern…everyone knows this is the direction we can go in and it works.”
Singh’s move to Bayern Munich in 2019 was followed by Libby Cacace signing with Sint-Truiden in Belgium the following year.
“Without those two moving on to the heights that they have then we’d still be in a different stage of our development.
“Now that we’ve had those two progress on I think it’s helped. The kids they all see that and they’ve got something to fight for and understand if they put the effort in this is what can happen.
“What we’re doing is working and we can’t stop here. We’ve got to keep pushing, got to keep getting better, got to keep producing better players and keep raising the bar.
“You have the motivation to do that because you know what’s possible.”
Temple still keeps in regular contact with his graduates and is proud of how they are handling the unique situation in Australia.
“This isn’t normal. These kids have left home, this is the first time they’ve had Christmas away from their families.
“They’re teenagers. They’re away from family and friends and they’re trying to cut their teeth in a professional environment.
“They’re trying to get into the team, stay in the team. It’s high pressure and they’re doing all this away from home.
“I’m proud of the way they’re all looking out for each other.”